The eyes of the world are on America today as Steve Jobs launches another iProduct, so to celebrate this (and because I was sent a bunch of sample bottles) I’m looking at a bunch of American wines.
Heading the line up was the 2008 The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Blanc from Dundee in Oregon. Costing £16, I was expecting something a bit, well, crap! So often new world producers screw this grape up and don't get the subtlety of Pinot Blanc, but not this time. It was very light on the nose, with chalk and clay aromas and lots of lemon pith. Then moving onto the palate, you got flint, more lemon pith, but what was astonishing was that they had made this so beautifully. Very fresh, very clean and showing great subtlety of flavour, a great example of Pinot Blanc. 8.5/10
The same cannot be said for their Pinot Gris. The Four Graces Dundee Hills Pinot Gris, 2007, smelled like stale cat pee, but with just a smattering of peach skin. The palate was too fat, very bruised fleshy fruit and an unpleasant, unbalanced wine. The finish left your tongue feeling like you had just liked an envelope. 4.5/10 We couldn't believe that a company that produced the outstanding Pinot Blanc could produce this bad a Pinot Gris, so I'd like to think that this was off in some way.
Sticking with the whites, the 2008 Zaca Mesa Viognier from Santa Ynez in California was not bad. Pear skin galore on the nose, with some oyster water on the end of the sniff giving this a bit of freshness. The palate is big, gets quite vegetal with an alcohol kick and a bit of spice. This wine manages to gather up all the alcohol, that could put you off, with lots of orange and again the oyster element kicks in to clean up the finish. Not a bad wine, by any stretch of the imagination, but at £19 you can get better from the likes of Eberle. 7.5/10
The last white was a Californian Chardonnay, and my heart sank as I expected a big buttery monster, but was quickly lifted by this truly outstanding bottle of wine. The 2006 Baileyana Firepeak Vineyard Chardonnay is, by far, the best white from America I’ve tried in a long time. Initially, when a little cold, it offered up a lot of pineapple and oak – French oak – with some custard tart elements. The palate has a bit of cedar, a lot of mango pith and some honey. There was a little buttered toast, giving the hint of some new oak (which I later found out is about 35% new), but was very very good. I scored it 8.5/10. Then, I went back to it when it had warmed up a bit, and it was exquisite. Gorgeous tropical fruit, being underlined by the cedar and light butter with a palate that was soft, and so well balanced. This is a 9.5/10 wine no problems!
Moving onto the reds, and another wine from The Four Graces, this time a 2007 Willamette Pinot Noir. Their scorecard would be decided with this wine, and it was scored in favour of them as they have made a great Pinot Noir. Sour cherry, and a lovely herbal element, some burnt green pepper skin and a little plum on the nose. The palate had an initial alcohol bash, but this settled with savoury fruit, an aniseed sweet spice, and a bit of leathery tannin. There is a lot of cherry Bakewell tart on the finish, and this is a very good, well made wine, a touch Burgundian-esque, but a well executed Oregonian Pinot Noir. 9/10.
Then there was the 2003 Zaca Mesa Syrah. Oh dear – it smelled like a Halfords store! Car tyres, oily and just a little bit of blueberry on the nose. The palate is a bit like licking a warm car tyre that has been smeared with blackcurrant jam. This, at £17.99 was a total bust. 4.5/10
And it didn’t get much better for the 2004 Zaca Mesa Z Cuvee. A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault, this was big, boozy and stewy. A lot of fruit, but it was unbalanced and a lot of alcohol. The palate just dies suddenly, with no warning, all of a sudden you have nothing left in your mouth. Really they could do better. 5/10
But all was saved with the 2004 Baileyana Firepeak Syrah. Like the Zaca Mesa, it had a combination of fruit and dirty elements but the dirty elements were lovely and, to quote my friend, orgainic! The car tyres and oil were replaced with Brussels sprouts and liquorice, the blueberry was there, but it wasn’t jammy, there were stone fruit – plums and cherries – and a veggie, fresh cabbage element. This was a really nice wine, maybe a touch the wrong side of £20, but still good at £22.50. 8.5/10
So a really interesting mixed bag of wines, the Baileyana coming out strongest with two cracking wines, The Four Graces company doing well with it’s Pinots Blanc and Noir, but not so with it’s Pinot Gris (was it a bad bottle?) and Zaca Mesa really not doing red well, but their white being acceptable but with better competition. Either way, all of these wines, good or bad, are ten times better value than the, quite frankly, pointless iPad!